Customer Relationship Management

How Social Media Affects Customer Relationship Management

By Staff Writer
In February 20, 2014

Even if you’ve never actively considered what you were seeing, you’ve witnessed the changing landscape of customer relationship management somewhere in your social media life. Whether it was a corporate Twitter handle tweeting live-updates on a service outage, a friend bragging about a free pair of jeans they received for posting about a negative shopping experience or the increased number of humanized status updates from brands in your Facebook timelines, you’ve experienced this evolution in one form or another. The adoption of social media by consumers across virtually all demographics has triggered this shift in the business-to-customer relationship management model and continues to drive its evolution. With customers’ digital voices speaking louder than ever before, brands have to make it just as clear that they are listening.

Customers are the main attractions in the social media show.

In the era of digital customer relationship management, the customer is the star of the show. When social media was a novelty, customers would have been flattered to get a shout out from a company on social media. That’s no longer the case. Not only do most customers demand a response, they want one quickly. 42% of customers expect a response on social media within 60 minutes of contacting a brand. Depending on how large your customer base is, this can be daunting. Many businesses now have social media teams of strategists and community managers dedicated to turning the onslaught of information from platforms such as Facebook and Twitter into meaningful insight and dialogue.

Does a team for social media seem like overkill? Larger brands like Gatorade and Volkswagen have taken it even further, with dedicated social media “war rooms” decked out with monitors that display social media and blog analytics including overall brand mentions and detailed sentiment analysis. Though it would be easy to dismiss social media as less important than tried-and-true marketing channels, this is dangerous and potentially disastrous thinking that innovative brands are leaving behind. When customer service was handled privately via a telephone call with scripted responses or a tailored email exchange, the company was fully in control. With customers now using open forums to voice their complaints, the customer relationship management model has shifted from private conversations to the public domain. With 78% of Internet users conducting product research online, can your business survive 78% of your customers being exposed to the negativity generated by a lazy social media presence?

How can a community manager help?

Community management positions were created in response to the understanding that digital communication is significantly shaping the perception of a brand. Responsible for steering conversation, community managers are the guardians of a brand’s digital identity. A community manager’s job entails monitoring a brand’s presence on the web while coordinating outreach via social media conduits such as Twitter and Facebook. With a contingency plan in place, community managers are able to deftly handle customer complaints while highlighting favorable interactions, pruning a brand’s image of negativity and publicly promoting strengths.

With 78% of Internet users searching the web for product research, companies want to maximize their knowledge and control over where that search will lead. With such a significant percentage of potential and current customers using the Internet for research, having a devoted position to manage a brand’s digital identity is essential. Community managers keep tabs on the digital body language that customers display across the web while working closely with marketing teams to streamline consistent branding efforts. A good community manager is able to read this digital body language and guide it to a more positive customer relationship experience, turning inquirers into customers and customers into brand advocates. Without a community manager, your brand is flying blind through the web and a “hope for the best” mentality is rarely the ideal approach to direct communication with customers.

I already have effective customer service channels. Why do I need more?

Think of social media as an extension of your current customer service channels rather than a replacement. The most effective brands on social media are adept at responding to customer concerns consistently. With that in mind, understand that you don’t have to know all of the answers before you interact. Just like old-school customer relationship management, social media CRM is half PR, half customer service and thrives on transparency. Know the answer to a question? Tweet it. Don’t know the answer? Admit it, and update the asker on progress. Though your brand may be accustomed to only releasing polished factual statements, tweeting something like “We’re working to get things back online! Thanks for being patient and awesome!” can go a long way in appeasing an inconvenienced group of people. With social media, it’s less about solving the problem immediately as it is conveying that you’re working to do so. Demonstrating that you understand the frustration your customers are feeling, while providing timely updates on progress, is an example of using the transparency of social media to your advantage.

The dark side of expected corporate transparency on social media is that when things go bad, they go really bad, really quickly, and when a brand chooses not to be transparent, it often doesn’t end well. A fantastic example of what happens when social media negativity spirals out of control is the coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympics. An estimated $50 billion investment for Russia, the Winter Olympics have been plagued with reports of inadequate facilities and deplorable conditions for athletes and journalists. Whereas in the past, these reports would have taken days or even weeks to gain international attention, social media can spread a story around the globe in real time. Within three days of launch, the @SochiProblems Twitter account had 178,000 followers, more than the official Olympics Twitter handle! Sharing pictures of the conditions with snarky comments, @SochiProblems reduced Russia’s enormous financial investment into one unending joke about the country’s infrastructure and perceived backwardness. Rather than taking a transparent position, Russia tried to blame western journalists for sabotaging the event, allowing the pervasive negativity to run unchecked through thousands of Twitter feeds.

Going beyond the @mention

Though responding to Twitter and Facebook @mentions is a start, managing an effective customer relationship model on social media goes beyond conversing. In addition to social media conversations, customers are discussing brands on blogs and forums. When deciding what to say to your social media audience, it’s advisable to take the temperature of conversations about your brand in order to determine which topics are okay and which should not be touched.

JPMorgan Chase probably had good intentions when they posed the question “What career advice would you ask a leading exec at a global firm? Tweet a Q using #AskJPM”. What followed was perhaps the most rapid and vicious Twitter reaction in social media history as Chase was maligned by thousands of people, all using the #AskJPM hashtag that Chase had created. Rather than a fun way to encourage engagement, Chase had created an easily-searchable complaints category in which customers seized the opportunity to hurl insults at the financial giant, and frankly, Chase should have known better. A simple Google search would have shown that the mood toward Chase was overwhelmingly negative and would have indicated that an open-ended question about senior executive decision-making would not go over well. These types of situations are what community managers are paid to avoid, and do, using customer relationship management software such as Radian6 to keep a finger on the web’s pulse in regards to a specific brand.

Social media can be a double-edged sword for brands. While a speedy medium for a company to disseminate information, social media is a continuous loop in which customers are able to spread their own opinions and reactions just as quickly. This virality means that what was once private, is now very much public, and a primary component of how your brand is perceived. Transparency and open dialogue are the keys to successfully navigating social media as a corporate entity. As the Winter Olympics fiasco illustrated, choosing not to participate does not mean that brands get a free pass to sit-out with no consequences. Like it or not, someone on the web is buzzing about you. Will you join the conversation, or pretend not to hear?

Looking for more information about building an effective brand on social media? Check out our blogs on how to use hashtags effectively and how to do more with a tweet.

Staff Writer

So who is this mysterious staff writer? Could be anyone really, as long as they meet our very strict criteria. 1) Worked with us in one capacity or another. 2) Have something pretty interesting to say. 3) Want to use our blog to say it. See? Told ya they were strict!